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Archive for October, 2010

UFO vs. Ghost Hunters

Friday, October 29th, 2010

A ballot initiative in Colorado has created a spirited debate between extraterrestrial believers and their ghostly brethren, both claiming that science and the least blurry pictures are on their side.

A battle is brewing over the skies and within all the haunted places in Denver, CO. The combatants for this unearthly contest come from the ranks of the paranormal and the extraterrestrial, i.e., between ghost hunters and UFO enthusiasts. Ground Zero for this war of the worlds is the voting booth. At risk is the future of a yet to be created Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission. Voters will determine the fate of this commission on November 2nd with their vote on a ballot initiative know as “300.” Perhaps it should have been called “Area 300.”

Ballot Initiative 300 is being promoted by Jeff Peckman, a believer that we are not alone in the universe. To his credit, he admits that he has never been visited by intergalactic beings. To his discredit,

The opposition, spearheaded by Bryan Bonner, says that UFO buffs are delusion at best. Like his adversary, Mr. Bonner has never claimed to be abducted by aliens. But maybe that because Mr. Bonner is too busy chasing ghosts. After all, he is the founder of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal society.

There are all sorts of interesting political and economic angles to this story (see Colorado Flying-Saucer Believers Have Ghost Hunters in Their Sights). But what I want to focus on is the “scientific” claims of each group. Peckman’s Extraterrestrial group validates the assertion of alien visits through sightings of spacecraft. Bonner’s paranormal followers validate their claims of ghostly visitors through equally blurring photographs as well as the readings – or lack of readings – with various scientific instruments, e.g., electromagnetic field detectors, seismographs, and more.

Both camps use the trappings of a scientific approach (logical deduction) to support their beliefs. Yet neither the UFO nor the paranormal investigation groups have ever provided convincing or repeatable evidence that would validate their beliefs.

Does the lack of hard, scientific data invalidate the existence of either extraterrestrial beings or ghosts? No. Rather, it means is that neither group has provided substantial evidence needed to fall under the unforgiving eye of science.

Still, with the ancient celebration of “All Hallows Eve” just two days away, I’m willing to suspend my scientific scrutiny for both groups. With my ghost meter in one hand and binoculars in the other, I’ll be prepared for genuinely ghostly and alien encounters as I hand out treats on that strangest of all nights.

New Semiconductor Fab Comes to Oregon

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Intel announces plans for a leading edge 22nm chip development facility in Oregon, while upgrading other manufacturing plants in the US.

The large, white tent near the D1D development fab parking lot belied the importance of coming announcement. Oregon’s leading congressmen and governor had assembled under this tent to share their support for Intel’s staggering investment in the US.

New D1X Semiconductor (22nm) Intel fab in Oregon

The event began with Bill Holt, Senior VP and GM at Intel, announced that Intel would be investing up to $8 billion in US facilities. Of particular interest to the Oregon high-tech community were plans for D1X, a new 22nm semiconductor fab. This fab would provide processor and related chip for the PC, mobile and embedded markets. Holt also said that two existing Oregon fabs – D1D and D1C – would be updated.

This is welcome news for Oregon, which is struggling with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Holt said that the new 22nm fab would result in 6,000 to 8,000 construction jobs over the next several years. Perhaps more important was that these projects would require 800 to 1,000 new permanent high-tech jobs at the company.

Oregon’s governor, Ted Kulongoski, spoke next. He noted that Intel’s announcement represented the largest private investment in the US by any other company over the last several years. Kulongoski applauded Intel’s long term vision in developing next generation technology in the US.

This theme of the importance of investment in the US was echoed by Senator Ron Wyden, who highlighted the recent influx of high-tech companies into Oregon, including Solarworld, Google, Facebook and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among others.

Senator Jeff Merkley tried to explain the importance of the new fab’s technology to a mostly non-technical audience. He compared the large number of transistors that could fit into the space of a single red blood cell. In essence, Merkley’s message was that 500 transistors could fit across one human blood cell. (For those who care, the assumptions are based on two measurements: 1) today’s transistor structures are about 10nm long and, 2) a red blood cell is 5,000 nm across. You can do the math.)

I applaud Merkley’s attempts to convey the amazing technology that this new Intel fab will enable. But perhaps his more important point was the observation that Intel’s presence in Oregon (indeed, across the US) continues to strengthen the role and health of technical universities.

Oregon Representative David Wu

US Representative David Wu, who is also the chair of the Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation, concluded the presentation series by enthusiastically saying that innovation was the path to the future. Indeed, Wu explained that innovation was the only path forward, since both monetary policy and political cooperation were “jammed.” His definition of innovation – a combination of labor and materials – is worth noting. His example for the prudent use of both labor and materials was that silicon (sand) could be used to make windows or to make integrated circuits. The later not only fosters innovations but also creates more high paying jobs.

As enlightening as these speeches were, they could not capture the excitement of Intel’s new investments in the world of high-tech. I hope it is a lesson that other industry leaders will follow.

Embedded Trends from IEEE OctoberBest

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Why did Microsemi buy Actel?

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Three weeks ago, Intel announced the mid-year 2011 availability of the first programmable embedded ATOM SoC – codenamed Stellarton – based on Altera’s FPGA technology. Earlier this year, Xilinx announced a partnership with ARM, the current de facto leader in embedded mobile systems. Both of these announcements were processor-centric, i.e., an embedded processor was tightly couple to an FPGA. (See “Intel Teams Up with Altera”)

This is not the case with today’s announcement of Microsemi’s acquisition of FPGA tool vendor Actel. Rather than a marriage of processors with FPGAs, this announcement represents a union of analog-mixed signal (AMS) and RF/Wireless chips with FPGAs. Why the difference?

Perhaps Microsemi needs an FPGA fabric to act as “system glue” to fully integrate other recent acquisitions, including VT Silicon and Arxan Defense Systems. These earlier acquisitions have extended Microsemi’s traditional focus in discrete AMS and power regulation-management devices to the world of mobile wireless and security chip technology.

A more likely explanation is that Microsemi values both Actel’s strong defense clients as well as their in-roads into analog integration. Actel has long had a strong presence in military electronics, thanks to their radiation hardened, anti-fuse, flash-based technology. Further, the companies Smart Fusion product lines are billed as “intelligent mixed signal FPGAs,” which would be a good complement to Microsemi’s existing AMS tools. (see “FPGA’s Tackle Motor Control System”)

Microsemi’s recent acquisition of Actel is the latest dynamic in the rapidly changing FGPA vendor landscape. What will it mean to the remaining low-tier FPGA companies like Lattice Semiconductor, SiliconBlue, Acrhonix, Quicklogic, as well as to start-ups like InPa and others? Are these programmable chip companies also acquisition targets by processor- or analog-centric companies? Will FPGAs be merely the system glue to hold together disparate parts from a variety of former acquisitions or will they be the key component in achieving the shining chalice of programmability?

Dare I even bring up the question of how these newly integrated or acquired FPGA devices will be programmed? After all, achieving a truly programmable system requires more than just hardware. But that’s a discussion for another day.